A historic New Street residence


21 New Street, Nelson.  The Twist Family residence

21 New Street is located on the fringes of the historic central business district of Nelson. A house on the property was built for William and Annie Twist in 1877. It still remains, and is one of the few historic buildings in Nelson's central business district and a good example of the Carpenter Gothic style (along with Wills Jewellers in Bridge Street).

The property was on the edge of the salt marsh and in a low-lying area probably prone to flooding from the Mahitahi/ Maitai River, which regularly changed its course. However, New Street was fortunate to have drains by 1887 or perhaps earlier, for combined stormwater and sewerage.1

21 New Street is part of Town Acre 219 of the City of Nelson. The New Zealand Company surveyed the Town Acres in 1842 and the resulting 1842 map of the town shows that the property was already sold - to a J.T. Patchett. New Street is not shown on the 1842 map, but references in early Nelson newspapers (accessed via Papers Past) indicate that it was formed at least by the mid 1860s.

New St Town Acres

Plan of the town of Nelson approved by Frederick Tuckett, chief surveyor, 28 April 1842.The sections coloured red indicate colonial reserves, blue sections sold, yellow Company’s reserves and green native reserves. No colour means unsold.

Town acre 219 was granted to John Emmet in 1854. The property was sold to Charles Harley in 1864 (after Emmet died), but the rating records state that it was owned by Harley from 1857. Harley, of the Nelson brewing company Harley & Sons, was a prominent Nelson landowner and businessman. Harley also owned nearby town acres including 215, 217 and 221.

In 1865 Harley sold part of the still vacant town acre 219 to George Harper, a land agent. Harper then continued to subdivide the property. The 1877 valuation list shows that Town Acre 219 had been subdivided into seven sections. Three of the sections contained wooden dwellings or lean-tos. There were a number of other buildings along New Street by this time, mostly on the south side of the road, and these included livery stables. 

In December 1875 Harper sold part of Town Acre 219 to William Twist, a livery stable keeper. Twist bought a further vacant block from Harley almost a year later. The 1877 valuation list records that in 1877, on Twist’s parcel of land, which had a 30 ft. frontage and 145 ft. depth, there was now a wooden dwelling valued at £180. This is the building that is still standing at 21 New Street. Twist needed a mortgage to purchase the property, however this was soon paid off.

Twist was in partnership with John Gay, operating as Twist & Gay Livery Stables,  which was on the other side of New Street.2  Before Twist built his residence in 1877, there was a fire in the Twist & Gay Livery stables  in March 1875.  The fire had started in the nearby Cooksey stables. The Fire Brigade turned out quickly and, with difficulty, saved the premises, although the end of it caught fire twice. The Cooksey building and another next to it were completely destroyed.3 

In April 1885 Twist died at home in New Street, aged 40, as the result of a fall from his carriage while watching a horse race.4  He was respected enough in the community to merit a short eulogy in the Nelson Mail.

New St Twist Boarding house2

Mrs Annie Twist’s Lodging House” Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree ½ 222 32640/3. 1888 written on the back.

His wife Annie inherited the property. William and Annie (nee Woolfenden), both from Nelson, had only been married for twelve years.5 She had at least one small son to support (aged 10 when his father died), plus a daughter.6  Annie Twist appears to have operated a boarding house, which was advertised in the Nelson Mail from 1889, as a “Comfortable Board and Residence”.7 She had some interesting boarders. An advert of 23 September 1892 refers to a Mrs Hickton in residence for those interested in palmistry to consult.

New St Twist Boarding house

Mrs Annie Twist, Boarding House, New Street. Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree Studio 41397/3 1/2.

She also needed to take out a mortgage which she paid back when she sold the property to Wilfred Frank in 1897. Frank was her son-in law, and Annie died at her, now his, house in 1918.8  

There are two photographs in the Nelson Provincial Museum collection that are labelled Mrs Twist’s boarding or lodging house. These appear to have been taken at a similar time. One of the photographs is dated by the museum to 1888.

New St Gay stables

Gay City Stables, Trafalgar Street, Nelson. Owned and operated by John Henry Gay from 1866 to until his death in 1912. Nelson Provincial Museum.

The photographs show a very similar building to what stands today. The lean-to at the back is an integral part of the building and looks to be built as part of the main structure, for example, the weatherboards in the early photograph are continuous across both parts of the building.  The chimney was believed to be removed sometime after 1939.

New St Gay house

This may have been J. Gays House (c. 1886) Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree ½ plate 226; 43859/3.

John Gay’s obituary reports he operated Gays City Stables in Trafalgar Street from 1866 until he died in 1912. An advertisement says he also had a private residence in New Street.

At some stage after Twist's death, John Gay and his family moved to 21 New Street. (A photograph at Nelson Provincial Museum suggests that John Gay and family lived at 21 New Street in 1886 after Twist's death in 1885). Gay owned the section which opened onto Halifax Street behind Twist’s property. The partnership with Gay was dissolved in June 1885, after Twist died. Gay’s City Stables was then run by John Gay and later his son Herbert.

Gay’s Livery Stables was still in operation in 1904, however a William Frank, printer now owned 21 New Street.9  At that time New Street also featured Chinese gardens, on the Collingwood side of 21 New Street, labourers, clerks and cab drivers.

Frank kept the property into the late 1920s. A number of subsequent owners maintained the property throughout the twentieth century until the present owners bought it in 2000 to use as a law office for Zindels. In 2018 the building was added to at the back of the original structure, where once outhouses were, and a great effort has been made to retain the distinctive historic front part of the building.

2019 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. The Colonist 8 January1887, The Colonist 24 December 1885
  2. John Gay, in the The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts](1906)
  3. New Zealand Times (1875), 18 March: "Wednesday, 7.50 p.m. A fire broke out half an hour ago, and is now blazing, in the stables of Cooksey, a carter, in Trafalgar-street. The brigade turned out quickly, and with difficulty saved Twist and Gay’s large livery stables, the end of which twice caught fire. The building in which the fire broke out was entirely destroyed, and another next to it. Much alarm was occasioned."
  4. The Colonist 6 April 1885;Nelson Evening Mail 6 April 1885.
  5. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle 11 January 1873.
  6. Birth notice in Nelson Evening Mail 5 June 1875; The Colonist 1 June 1885.
  7. For example, Nelson Evening Mail 4 December 1889. 
  8. The Colonist, 28 December 1918
  9. Colonist (1887, 27 August), p.4 Advertisement for 1887 for Gays stables formerly Twist and Gay
  10. 1904-5 Wises Directory

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  • John Gay and William Twist built "mirror image" houses on their respective properties that backed onto each other(21 New Street and 46 Halifax St).These were both built in 1876 and tendered together. See archaeological and historical assessments of both properties which can be accessed via Heritage nZ digital library.

    Posted by Amanda Young, 31/03/2021 12:23pm (3 years ago)

  • The property was owned not by William Frank, but Wilfred Frank, who was indeed a printer. He had married William and Annie Twist's daughter, Edith - who is the young woman standing outside the house in the photo in the Tyree Collection. Wilfred Frank was photographer Rose Frank's cousin. He was also life-long friend, and campaign manager, to Nelson MP Harry Atmore - they planned speeches and election tactics together at the house, for decades.
    Ask me some time about William Twist's family background - sensational!

    Posted by Jackie Cook, 27/07/2019 11:26am (4 years ago)

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Further sources - A historic New Street residence


  • Cook, J. (2021) If only walls could talk - Annie Twist's New Street Boarding House. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 9(1)2021, pp. 9-16


  • Amanda Young. Property report for Nelson City Council on 21 New Street (Nelson City Council Property file)
  • Rating Rolls and Valuation Reports (Nelson Provincial Museum)

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